Displaying items by tag: the revelator

The Revelator: Residual drugs largely unfiltered by existing wastewater plants

Aquatic species around the world are exposed to at least 600 types of residual drugs, ranging from anti-inflammatories to antidepressants, and it’s not fully understood how these chemicals will ultimately affect marine ecosystems.

Some research indicates that a species of crayfish is emboldened by antidepressant compounds in the presence of predators, lessening its flight response. Scientists have also noted the presence of pharmaceuticals among invertebrates, as well as seaweed.

More work is needed to further document the effects of the chemicals on the behavior and reproduction of aquatic life, but people can temper the introduction of pharmaceuticals in the first place by never flushing medications down the toilet or any other drain, and checking in on the filter technologies in place at their local wastewater treatment plant. Some advanced carbon filters can successfully remove pharmaceuticals from wastewater before it’s released into the environment.

Published in Feedbag

Kamikatsu Yuki Shimazu

Kamikatsu, Japan, famously declared its goal was to go waste-free by 2020. It didn’t quite get there.

This story was originally published in The Revelator

One of the many unfortunate outcomes of the coronavirus pandemic has been the quick and obvious increase in single-use plastic products. After COVID-19 arrived in the United States, many grocery stores prohibited customers from using reusable bags, coffee shops banned reusable mugs, and takeout food with plastic forks and knives became the new normal.

Despite recent scientific evidence that reusables don’t transmit the virus, the plastic industry has lobbied hard for a return to all things disposable plastic. Inevitably, a lot of that plastic will continue to flow into our environment.

While COVID-19 has certainly thrown a wrench into the hard-earned progress we’d been making in reducing waste, eliminating plastic pollution entirely was always going to be challenging — with or without a pandemic. The jarring rise of single-use plastics is an expedited version of a familiar trend. Plastic production has been steadily increasing for quite some time.

As a zero-waste advocate, I’ve seen how the tsunami of plastic continuously being produced and flooding our planet has made achieving zero-waste goals incredibly difficult. The sheer amount makes it hard to safely and efficiently dispose of plastic, no matter how hard we try.

But as I examine the problem, and search for solutions, I keep coming back to one noteworthy example. 

Published in Earth

Sue Cameron USFWSU.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Susan Cameron searches moss mats for the spruce-fir moss spider in this USFWS photo.

European spidey senses should give us pause across the pond.

This story was originally published by The Revelator.

Despite their enormous ecological values, new research reveals we don’t understand how most arachnid species are faring right now — or do much to protect them.

Spiders need our help, and we may need to overcome our biases and fears to make that happen.

“The feeling that people have towards spiders is not unique,” says Marco Isaia, an arachnologist and associate professor at the University of Turin in Italy. “Nightmares, anxieties and fears are very frequent reactions in ‘normal’ people,” he concedes.

Perhaps that’s why spiders remain under-represented across the world’s endangered-species conservation plans. Average people don’t think much about them, relatively few scientists study them, and conservation groups and governments don’t act enough to protect them.

That’s a major gap in species-protection efforts — one that has wide repercussions. “Efforts in conservation of spiders are particularly meaningful for nature conservation,” Isaia points out. Spiders, he says, have enormous ecological value as food for birds and other animals. They’re also important to people, both as predators of pest species and as inspiration for medicines and engineering.

And yet they remain neglected.

How bad is the problem? A new paper by Isaia and 18 other experts digs into the conservation status of Europe’s 4,154 known spider species and finds that only a few have any protection at the national level. Most have never even been adequately assessed or studied in detail, so we don’t know much about their extinction risk or their ecological needs.

Published in News
Tuesday, 13 April 2021 11:43

Saving America's "Amazon" in Alabama

Book cover Saving Americas Amazon in Alabama

 

Alabama is home to remarkably diverse ecosystems:
They face dire threats.

This story was originally published by The Revelator.

When longtime environmental journalist Ben Raines started writing a book about the biodiversity in Alabama, the state had 354 fish species known to science. When he finished writing 10 years later, that number had jumped to 450 thanks to a bounty of new discoveries. Crawfish species leaped from 84 to 97 during the same time.

It’s indicative of a larger trend: Alabama is one of the most biodiverse states in the country, but few people know it. And even scientists are still discovering the rich diversity of life that exists there, particularly in the Mobile River basin.

All this newly discovered biodiversity is also gravely at risk from centuries of exploitation, which is what prompted Raines to write his new book, "Saving America's Amazon.".

The Revelator talked with Raines about why this region is so biodiverse, why it’s been overlooked, and what efforts are being made to protect it.

Question: What makes Alabama, and particularly the Mobile River system, so biodiverse?

Answer: The past kind of defines the present in Alabama.

During the ice ages, when much of the nation was frozen under these giant glaciers, Alabama wasn’t. The glaciers petered out by the time they hit Tennessee. It was much colder but things here didn’t die.

Everything that had evolved in Alabama over successive ice ages is still here. We have a salamander, the Red Hills salamander, that branched off from all other salamander trees 50 million years ago. So this is an ancient salamander, but it’s still here because it never died out.

The other thing you have here, in addition to not freezing, is that it’s really warm. Where I am in Mobile, we’re on the same latitude as Cairo. So the same sun that bakes the Sahara Desert is baking here.

But we also have the rainiest climate in the United States along Alabama’s coast. It actually rains about 70 inches a year here. By comparison, Seattle gets about 55 inches. It makes for a sort of greenhouse effect where we have this intense sun and then plenty of water. Alabama has more miles of rivers and streams than any other state.

Things just grow here.

The pitcher plant bogs of Alabama, for example, are literally among the most diverse places on the planet. In the 1960s a scientist went out and counted every species of flowering plant in an Alabama pitcher plant bog. He came up with 63. That was the highest total found on Earth in a square meter for a decade or more.

For a long time the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was thought to be the center of oak tree diversity in the world because they have about 15 species of oaks in the confines of the park. Well, two years ago scientists working in this area called the Red Hills along the Alabama River found 20 species of oak trees on a single hillside. It’s just staggering.

Why is Alabama’s rich biodiversity not well known or studied?

The state was never known for being a biodiverse place until the early 2000s, when NatureServe came out with this big survey of all the states. It surprised everyone because it showed Alabama leading in aquatic diversity in all the categories — more species of fish, turtles, salamanders, mussels, snails.

This blew everybody away because Alabama in everybody’s mind is the civil rights protests of the 1960s, the KKK, steel mills and cotton fields. But that’s not what’s in Alabama, that’s what we’ve done to Alabama since we’ve been here.

I think part of it also has to do with being a long way from Harvard and Yale and Stanford and the great research institutions that were sending biologists all over the world. Alabama just wasn’t really studied or explored.

Again and again, the story in Alabama is that nobody has ever looked.

That’s one of E.O. Wilson’s big messages about Alabama. He is our most famous living scientist, I would say, or certainly biologist. He grew up here, and now in his twilight years his big mission has become trying to save Alabama. And he describes it as less explored than Borneo and says we have no idea what miracle cures and things we may find in the Mobile River system, which is what I call “America’s Amazon.”

Published in Voices